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About the Author
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Raquel Chalfi, the daughter of two poets, was born in Tel Aviv. She first studied English literature and philosophy at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, gaining a master's degree in 1972. Later, she won a scholarship to UC Berkeley where she was awarded a prize for playwriting, and went on to study cinema at the American Film Institute in Los Angeles, where she won another scholarship. On her return to Israel, she worked as an editor of documentary programs for Israel Radio, directed TV documentaries and also, in the 1980s, directed two experimental films. For many years she also taught in Tel Aviv University's film and television department. Today she conducts poetry workshops.
In the early 1960s, Chalfi published short stories and articles; she then started to publish poetry, her first book of poems coming out in 1975. In the 1980s, her standing as an important poet grew. To date, Chalfi has published 15 books of poetry and a collection of short stories. She has received the Prime Minister's Prize and the Ashman Prize (1999), the Bialik Prize for Poetry (2006) for Solar Plexus, and the prestigious Brenner Prize (2013). Chalfi is married to writer Chaim Tadmon and they live in Tel Aviv.
On her poetry
Already with the publication of her first book, Raquel Chalfi stood out for her poetic distinction and the originality of her worldview. The poetic "I" looks at the world with wonder and curiosity, but is itself vulnerable and shifting, lacking clear boundaries and riddled with internal contradictions. The speaker faces the chaos that surrounds and threatens to engulf her; at the same time she longs to merge with the world and its creatures, wonders at the meaning of the connection between mankind and the cosmos, and attempts to understand what is happening inside herself. But although she uses metaphors drawn from modern science, she does not actually deal with science, and her poetry does not contain any dry formulations. On the contrary, it is tempestuous and dramatic, typified by movement, sensuality, color and a desire to seize the living, elusive moment.
Chalfi's poetry also explores the similarity between the self, infinitesimal and transient as it is, and the cosmos – infinite and eternal. Both are driven by the same laws, and understanding the outer chaos is for her the key to understanding psychological processes and human existence. "When one says 'science'," Chalfi said in an interview in Haaretz in May 2009, "the first thing to enter one' s mind are regular laws, order, formulas. But the concepts of modern science speak precisely of the opposite. I have found that they reflect my personal feeling. The uncertainty principle, chaos, particles. As if someone had managed to explain what I intuitively feel within myself, inside my soul."
The urge to merge with the world creates exciting but also perilous experiences: the blurring of boundaries involved, as well as the total surrender, are not simple experiences. They are multi-faceted, involve contrasting essences, and Chalfi's attitude toward them is ambivalent, for the loss of control may lead to the brink of insanity. These fears are expressed, for example, in the flora and fauna that populate Chalfi's poetry – real, imaginary or hybrid creatures, sometimes marvels full of vitality, or at others monsters, such as the porcupine fish, the blue shark, the barracuda, the octopus or even brutal household objects. Their love is predatory and contact with them is lethal. They are projections of opposing emotions: feelings of power and courage, anxieties, distress, ecstatic desire and thrills. A similar role is played by Chalfi's witches – these poems have become very popular among readers and have aroused much interest, partly because of their feminist connotations. But in Chalfi's world, witches express ambivalent qualities: on the one hand, daring, power, creativity, sexual independence and rebellion against repression; on the other, vulnerability, resignation, victimhood, and painful crashes to the ground of reality. Thus they are both marvelous and mundane, they soar to heights yet sink down to earth, are defeated and pay the price.
This ambivalent position is also expressed in the humor and self-irony that we find in many of Chalfi's poems. Here, self-ridicule counters the surrender to enchantment; it constitutes the lighter side of fear as well as the attempt to overcome it, and is more prominent in Chalfi's later poetry.
Finally, Raquel Chalfi does not hesitate to cast doubt on language, on the power of poetry and the authority of the poet. Language, for her, is an insufficiently honed instrument, one that she does not trust because it lacks the capacity to trap a shifting reality in all of its facets. Yet poetry is a necessity for her, and she repeatedly tries to "enforce discipline" through words and to explain the inexplicable. She even strives for precision, and succeeds marvelously.
Compassion is the driving force behind Raquel Chalfi's poetry. [...] Everything in life has substance and value for her, each creature, each object, each moment. [...] She is a poet of the love of life, and precisely when she is writing out of sorrow, humor makes an appearance in her poetry. It enables her to remove the sting from existential suffering and to make the reader laugh.
– Hagit Grossman, Makor Rishon, 2.3.12
Chalfi has a remarkable talent for depicting vibrant characters with a few brushstrokes, so that the deceptive distinctions between imagination and reality, or between the character's outer surface and hidden essence, are both canceled out and exposed, enabling the poem to morph into a living illustration, a spectacular show of verbal animation, a breathing, moving creature. [...] There is a surprising freshness in her poems, perhaps because she doesn't hesitate to cut straight to the heart of the popular image, to pull it out of the childhood memory in which it took shape, and to pop it onto the page for us with nonchalant virtuosity.
– Eli Hirsh, Yedioth Ahronoth, 22.7.11
With Chalfi's rare linguistic sensitivity, dipped as always in deep humor, there's a "puff" that takes place in these poems, that makes them fly despite the literal and metaphorical dust that accompanies them. [...] Reading them, one wants to say "Right!" or "Very right!" or "You've got it!" after just about each line.
– Einat Yakir, Time Out, 9.7.09; Iton 77, May 2010
To Chalfi, a poet much loved by readers of Hebrew poetry, the world is an arena buzzing with the potential birth of mirror-images and refractions of the "I" and its alternatives. [...] Her honesty, the way she summons the private and the subjective, even for what is public and alienated, bind the reader to her poetry. It is easy and pleasant to take these poems into one's heart.
– Navit Barel, Iton 77, December 2007
Great poetry, umbilically connected to the world in which she wishes to function. Her poems point her readers toward the beautiful, which is the place where they are close to themselves and to the world.
– Lyor Shternberg, Haaretz, 31.7.07
Raquel Chalfi's poetic voice is unique; sometimes it touches other voices, but it is always different. [...] Too slowly, but persistently, its presence is growing within the dense acoustic space of Israeli poetry. [...] In her first collection of poems, Chalfi already presented a crystallized and very personal poetic statement, extending somewhat the revolution that took place in in Israeli poetry in the 1950s and 60s. But it also opened a new poetic channel, which freed energies. [...] What a colorful, sensual tempest burst out suddenly! [...] Her second book was in a major key, rich in momentum; it included some of the gems of contemporary Israeli verse. [...] Raquel Chalfi is making an important contribution to the breaking down of barriers and the paving of new routes: a bold and original poet who is also a pioneer in laying the foundations of an alternative literary culture.
– Dan Miron, Afterword to Chalfi's Solar Plexus, 2005
One of the cleverest and most important bodies of poetry created here over the past generation. [...] In Chalfi's hands, the frailty of the "I" becomes a source of unusual riches, of gentle vision and ultimately of a powerful, effective poetic voice. [...] Chalfi has created some of the most trenchant and exciting poems of the recent generation about sexuality, love of children and growing old. [...] This is very clever poetry that is intermittently reminiscent of Wislawa Szymborska — in its lucidity, its intellectuality, and in the new, "low" humanism that emerges from it. But the range of its subject matter the consistency of its philosophical steps is unique and highly impressive.
– Ariel Hirschfeld, Haaretz, 16.8.02
A unique attempt to cope with the profound significance of movement within chaos. Sliding covertly and with virtuosity between inner and outer, Chalfi tries to seize nothingness, to peel off the layers of spiritual existence, and to create a niche within chaos. [...] She forces upon the roaming soul a sensual duet between chaos and consciousness, body and heart. [...] And she spreads her broad poetic wings over all this with great momentum and unimaginable gentleness.
– Dana Amir, Dimui, Summer 2002
Raquel Chalfi is an excellent poet. [...] Hers is an intellectual and elitist poetry, addressed to those readers not deterred by words and terms. Very surprisingly, the cumulative effect of her precise terminology, partly taken from astrophysics, is not one of scientific aridity.
– Ziva Shamir, Moznaim, January 2000
Raquel Chalfi's poetry is existentialist in the fullest sense of the word. [ ...] She is always taking aim at the great existential questions. [...] This is a kaleidoscope of enormous proportions.
– Rafi Veichert, Maariv, 9.7.99
Raquel Chalfi is one of the most talented and original Hebrew poets of recent decades. [...] Her poetry has a clear influence over other poets and she also enjoys a loyal readership. [...] Her poetic talent is expressed in a precise and rich delivery, highly inventive and imaginative. [...] Lovers of modern poetry can expect an enthralling reading experience.
– Avraham Balaban, Achshav, Winter 1995
Of the poets active today in Hebrew letters, Chalfi is one of the most interesting.
– Ran Yagil, Moznaim, June-July 1995
We have here a literary effort, going back more than a few years, to catch the spiritual, the intangible, by its tail through the narrow cracks in that volatile reality that we call "matter". [...] The fantastic contrast between Chalfi's sense of the cosmic and eternal, and moments of the briefest physical experience is what makes Chalfi's poetry unique and consistently surprising.
– Yonadav Kaplun, Moznaim, September-October 1992
An important poet. Chalfi's verse contains both independence and risk. She has broken down a number of fences. [...] There are beautiful lines here that transmit a conceptual tremor, great sensitivity to the landscapes of the country, and excellent erotic poems. [...] No one else writes like this. Chalfi doesn't follow fashions or join camps. Her poetry is very unique and interesting.
– Gabriel Moked, Yedioth Ahronoth, 25.6.76
The Water Queen Of Jerusalem
The Water Queen of Jerusalem dived into history
History was hard and she grew fins she had no air and she schemed gills rowing and rowing through memory
The Water Queen of Jerusalem has a bathing suit made of Yiddish the Water Queen of Jerusalem wallows on a stone beach in Ladino fearing the rise of water levels in Arabic the Water Queen of Jerusalem has no sea in Jerusalem she has a history Jewish and she holds holds her head above water
Translated by Tsipi Keller
Once I Knew
Once I knew:
Prayer is a sound aligned traveling the universe
This knowledge – what is it to me?
In the universe travels a sound I couldn't hear I wished to touch it with a sound of my being which I couldn't align
Now as I try I'm like a dull wooden table trying to pray
Translated by Tsipi Keller
Such tenderness in our body as it abandons us slowly reluctant to hurt us with a sudden jolt.
Gradually wistfully like a half-sleeping beauty it weaves for us tiny wrinkles of light and wisdom –
no earthquake cracks but an airy network of anxiety lines.
How kind of our body that it doesn't change our face all at once that it doesn't break our bones with one blow
No, cautiously like a pale moon bathing us with its glow it illumines us with a web of sad nerves pleats our skin in the corners hardens our spinal cord –
so we can withstand it all
Such beauty such tenderness in our body that gradually betrays us politely prepares us tells us in whispers bit-by-bit hour-by-hour that it is leaving
Translated by Tsipi Keller
Elegy for a Friend Who Lost Her Mind
You were a field of breaking poppies under the weight of the tar of madness I watched you go mad under its weight –
a glossy insect under an exacting creature in the dark
I watched the warm creature pervade your body I watched you get crushed inside and out the muscles of your face trying to escape the truth you know about yourself you're suddenly mad suddenly and there's no escape
I watched your body freeze not in the hot tar of madness frozen in the basalt of the sane cold fear and in your heart the blazing heart of lava in the black heart of frozen basalt
A girl who wishes to be good even in the face of the terrible dybbuk clinging to your flesh
My friend my body is crushed in your anguish my heart consumed in your Jobian hurt and the sights the sights haunt me mad
Translated by Tsipi Keller
Like a Plant Clinging
Like a plant clinging onto light so I cling onto fear hard and tight
Fear the body's shadow the soul's lunacy –
fills the soul
has colour scent volume
a defined place in the body's inner order a familiar taste since the time I grasped the posts of my baby-bed
And what force the dark light has with which fear grips me like an ivy teeming in cold lunatic stone
Translated by Sonia Gruber, with the poet
Suddenly I'm light suddenly heavy suddenly round suddenly sharp suddenly beautiful suddenly monstrous suddenly open suddenly blocked suddenly honest suddenly thief suddenly fat suddenly thin suddenly acting suddenly dreaming suddenly loving suddenly not loving suddenly abstaining suddenly laying suddenly like this suddenly like this suddenly I'm me suddenly I'm not
Translated by Sonia Gruber, with the poet
And now what? Write another poem?
Shut an eye to the black abyss and stifle from within the barks of truth from around the corner shrieking "hau! hau!"
For words of incantation have not the power the magic tune has not the power to lull the dark hairy demons and the layer of pink powder has not the power to cover the cracks of horror peeping from below, making obscene gestures
For you don't intend to hide, giggling, behind the apron of words,
rubbing against their large soft bellies,
and for how long will you be deceiving, for how long won't you admit how useless is this broken clunky magic lantern in the face of death
Translated by Tsipi Keller
The scanner was moving mapping my white bones up and down my body like a skilled boring lover Then the dried-up technician clicked away on a shabby computer my body-thought and made calculations comparisons and someone will decipher what is hidden within me and put it into a vulgar formula then rush away to tell on me to other scanning computers –
all of them horny machines with a special kick for human bodies
this pen is moving across this sheet on this table.
I am dealing with this papery aspect of my body.
And I through the magical palimpsest of time see you and me sitting now-then-now,
sending at each other breezes transmuting into the mute dance of seventy-seven veils floating with the breezy movement of cosmic ether
Scanner Scanner tell me:
Am I starting to develop the symptoms of Love Sickness?
Scanner Scanner look at me and tell me:
Whose bones does he think are prettier than mine?
Translated by the poet(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Kaleidoscope"
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Table of Contents
Raquel Chalfi 3
On her poetry 4
Critical Comments 5
The Water Queen Of Jerusalem 13
Once I Knew 14
Such Tenderness 15
Elegy for a Friend Who Lost Her Mind 16
Like a Plant Clinging 17
*(And now what? Write another poem?) 19
Time That Wonderful Wild Horse 22
The Love of Trees 23
Log Entries 25
Like a Field Waiting 27
Relations, 2 29
A Dialogue between Aurora, the Northern Light, and Her Would-Be Lover 30
I, the Barracuda 35
What the Blue Shark Said 36
Porcupine Fish 37
Speech of the Octopus 38
From the Diary of a Penguinette 39
Mrs. Darwin 43
A Witch Discussing the Spectrum 47
A Witch Falling in Love While Falling 48
A Mutant Witch 49
A Breaking Witch 50
A Witch Practically 51
A Witch Changing Her Form 52
A Witch Who Must Cure 53
A Chorus of Witches 54
Summary of published work 55
Ory Bernstein 59
On his poetry 60
Critical Comments 62
My father in declivity 67
Choice and snow 68
All my friends in their gardens 70
Browsing through old letters 71
A journey for Assaf 72
Man on a high chair 73
Sudden flight 74
What can you tell me, father 75
On an old jazz musician 76
A square 77
Three men 78
A departure 79
Questions and Answers about Death 80
From: With Death (In memory of my mother, Rivka) 81
One eyed and erect you watch 81
Your body is a tangle. Only a tiny knot 82
Once a week I come down to visit you 82
When your soul departed 83
In a bar 84
A rural morning 85
A conversation with friends 86
From: A New Place 87
In the big tree 87
Old men 87
Wild boars 88
A couple dancing 89
You crossed the street, a woman at the height of her powers 89
The sun descends 90
From: A one and only love 92
Japanese woodcuts 98
Poems for my dead Father 100
Summary of published work 102
Shimon Adaf 107
On his poetry 108
Critical Comments 109
Icarus Remembers 120
Daedelus Speaks 123
1 In this place 123
2 June is becoming 123
3 A barrage 124
4 Of longings 124
5 Anatomy 124
Illusion - &cgpM;&cgpK;&cgpG;&cgpM;&cgpG; 124
To the Morning Bird 125
A Confession 128
Evening Prayer 135
Stationary Song 139
Tikkun (Midnight Prayer) 140
Flesh - &cgpD;&cgpP;&cgpB; 141
1 Trial 142
2 And Error 144
Ars Poetica 145
Rescue from Oblivion 150
Past Language 153
Recognizing the Body 156
Summary of published work 161
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I liked it. I was nice but had some spell errors and run on sentances and I didn't know who was speaking half the time but other than that thisis th rating &starf &starf &starf &starf &star . . . <p> Name~Birdsong <p> Appearance~Light brown she-cat with pale green eyes and dark brown tabby stripes. <p> Personality~Very shy sometimes but is a great leader because of her wise descions and outspoken nature <p> Mate~Darkstar <p> Kits~No but is heavily pregnant and gives birth to the prophecy kitten maybe.
One thing that irked me. It's prophecy. :S Besides that, your punctuation was a little confusing, and a lot of run-on sentences. But, do go on. It's pretty good.